Across the territories and provinces of Canada, school children are considered a very precious cargo. The transport that is used to ferry them to and from school is deliberately robust. The iconic big yellow school bus is built like a tank and is driven by a highly trained driver. Flashing lights tell other drivers when not to pass and everybody obeys. However, these buses are expensive to run and it is often necessary to use other vehicles to transport children to extracurricular activities.
It was very late on Friday January 11 2008 when parents gathered to collect their sons who were returning from an away basketball fixture. This was a routine they had grown used to – the Bathurst High School ‘Boys in Red’ basketball team regularly travelled miles to play the game they loved. When midnight came and went and a mixture of freezing rain and snow began to fall, the assembled group grew increasingly anxious. Eventually a police car pulled up and an officer informed the parents that the 15-seat Ford Club Wagon carrying their children had been involved in an accident and they should go to the local hospital.
Only four of the 12 people on board had made it to the hospital – seven pupils and the wife of the ‘Boys in Red’ team coach (who was also the driver) had been pronounced dead at the scene. The tragedy shook the whole of Canada. A national day of mourning was declared and tributes and condolences poured in from far and wide. A Facebook page was set up to allow people to extend their sympathy. The boys’ funeral, held at the Bathurst Civic Centre, was attended by more than 6,000 people and thousands more watched on a giant screen at the nearby ice rink.
When: January 12 2008
Where: Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada
Death toll: Seven boys and their teacher
You should know: Laws were rushed through to ban vehicles like the one used to transport the boys. Some provinces began to require extra insurance, even for parents giving children’s friends lifts to and from school-organized activities. While the laws are well meaning, there are fears that they may lead to children having fewer opportunities to engage in sports and social activities outside school.